Why Does an MRI Cost $2,500 Here and $250 in Finland?

 

JPen and money on CT-scan flim.ust had dinner with an old friend from Finland. He’s a physician so, of course, the talk turned to health care and the differences between our countries. I asked him how much an MRI cost in Finland. With a few clicks on his phone he had the answer: about $250. Not to be outdone, I pulled out my own phone. The average price of an MRI here? About $2,500.

And therein lies the problem. The US spends more per capita on health care than any other industrialized country in the world. The spending is driven by our high use of technology and the cost of health care. And before you say we have the best healthcare system in the world, let me tell you that we don’t.

Our country ranks last or near the bottom on nearly every health-related outcome compared to other high-income countries. In fact, life expectancy has actually dropped in the past couple of years for the first time in decades, with death rates rising for eight of the top 10 leading causes … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act blog health insurance healthcare costs high-deductible health plan

Value-Based Reimbursement: There’s a New Player in Town

Value Based Reimbursement Webinar

 

There’s a new player in town. In case you haven’t heard, his name is VBR – value-based reimbursement. He’s smart. He’s tough. He’s out to break you down and build you up. And if you’re a healthcare provider, there is nowhere to hide.

For several years now I’ve been writing about the “coming” revolution in healthcare reimbursement as the system moves from a fee-for-service approach (ie, the more you do, the more you earn) to one based on cost and outcomes, aka, value. Well, the revolution has begun. Just consider:

➢ On April 1, nearly 70 hospital systems will switch from billing separately for each component of a knee or hip replacement to receiving a bundled payment for all care provided from the time the patient enters the hospital until 90 days after discharge. Just consider the possibilities!

➢ Two weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which is driving the value-based revolution, announced a proposal to change the way physicians are paid for drugs administered in their offices (mainly oncology medications).

Today, doctors get the … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Value-based reimbursement

How Much Is That CT Scan In the Window?

transparencyDo you know how much that 50-inch, flat-screen TV cost? How about your car? The cashmere cardigan you just had to have?

So how much did that visit with your gyn because of your painful period cost (men: substitute whatever you want here)? The ultrasound to see if you had a fibroid? The myomectomy to remove the fibroid?

A few years ago it didn’t matter so much; most of us only had to handle relatively small copayments and many of us didn’t even have deductibles. Fast forward to today, when the cost job-based health insurance has grown faster than our incomes, essentially eating up any salary increases over the past 10 years. In fact, the average deductible has more than doubled for most employees regardless of the size of their companies.

Note I said the past 10 years. Which means you can’t blame the five-year-old Affordable Care Act entirely. In fact, out-of-pocket payments would likely be higher without the ACA; a recent report from the Commonwealth Fund found a “marked slowdown in premium growth in 31 states and the District of Columbia.” However, that same report also found that premiums increased about … Continue Reading

Labels:
cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform payment

A Letter to a Friend (or, I’m Sorry I Lost My Temper Last Night”)

Sibling RivalrySo I did something last night that I’m not proud of. I got into an argument – complete with raised voices – with a friend. Over health care and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), of course. (Note that he continually called it “Obamacare” in a somewhat sneering tone, which, as those of you who read my blog regularly or know me, know I consider a derogatory term for a very important piece of legislation).

I felt terrible after we left and tossed and turned all night coming up with things I wished I said (not to mention wishing I hadn’t lost my temper).

So I decided to write my friend a letter via this blog.

Dear Friend:

I am really sorry about last night’s discussion, er, argument. I should have remained calmer (I’m blaming it on the martini you made me, which, by the way, was very, very good). So here is a cooler version of responses to some of the points you made.

The government should not be paying for health insurance.

Well, I notice that you are quite happy to … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act blog health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare

Why Repealing the Affordable Care Act Won’t Stop Healthcare Reform

So the election is over. The Republicans now control both houses. And several are promising that one of their first jobs is to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I’m sure there are lots of people jumping up and down with glee.

This reaction reminds me what one doctor told me a couple of weeks ago after I spoke to his group (abdominal surgeons) about healthcare reform (you can read more about the experience here). “This (the ACA) is going to go away and things will return to normal.”

Um, not quite.

Sure, if the ACA goes away we’ll return to more than 40 million uninsured Americans who can’t afford health care. States that have expanded Medicaid will have to pick up the full tab for those expansions (instead of 10% beginning in 2020). Young adults who are still covered on their parents’ policies will now have to buy their own — if they can afford them. Women will once again be discriminated against in terms of premiums and plan designs. People with preexisting conditions will be unable to find affordable health insurance on the individual market. We’ll have no guarantee of a basic set of benefits (for instance, some … Continue Reading

Labels:
Affordable Care Act cost health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system;

Doctors Are Angry. I Get That. But . . .

surgeonI knew this would be the toughest audience yet in my three years of teaching/speaking about the US healthcare system and healthcare reform. I even put on a flak jacket at the beginning of my talk as a way of breaking the ice (and protecting myself; I mean, these guys pack scalpels!). And I made it through the two-hour talk and their anger without losing my composure or my sense of humor (thank god for that sense of humor).

Now I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home and find myself tearing up. Not because the doctors were mean or cruel — they weren’t — but because of how much distance there is between  reality and perception, how much anger is out there, how too many people rely only on anecdotes and commentary instead of facts to develop opinions, and how scary it is to look at where we are and where we need to be — and realize that, more and more, it is unlikely we will ever get there given the rhetoric and anger in this country.

The doctors this morning, most of whom have been in practice … Continue Reading

Labels:
ACA Affordable Care Act health insurance healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; malpractice insurance Obamacare patient-centered care patient-centered healthcare Uncategorized

Why You Need a Second Opinion

Early in the summer I wrote about a good friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and endometriosis. She saw a gyn oncologist because there was a small chance it was cancer (thankfully, it wasn’t). The doctor drained the cyst and started my friend on  oral contraceptives to control the hormonal shifts that contribute to endometriosis (which contributes to the cysts).

A couple of weeks ago, however, my friend texted me to say that her leg/foot was really hurting. She thought she might have a deep vein problem. I immediately told her to go to urgent care because it might be a blood clot, which can be quite serious. Her own primary care physician had left his practice, so found another that took her insurance.

Here’s her story:

“I went to the primary care physician my insurance company recommended. I specifically asked her if my leg problem could be a blood clot and she said “no” and sent me to a sports medicine doctor who then sent me to physical therapy. My leg still hurts and I thought they were wrong so I decide to go back to the gyn oncologist  who sent … Continue Reading

Labels:
healthcare costs healthcare system; ineffective procedure

Should You Listen to Your Doctor?

moneyWhen I speak about the US healthcare system, I always like to tell the story of my mother. A couple of years ago, she emailed my sisters and I. “Good news!” she wrote. “My nuclear stress test was normal!” (The test  involves injecting a radioactive dye into a vein after which a special camera scans the heart to determine if there are any blockages).

At the time, my mother was 70 and, with the exception of very-well-controlled high blood pressure (that she’d had all her life), extremely healthy. No sign of heart disease. No angina. No shortness of breath. In short, no indications for an expensive, invasive, potentially dangerous, test. So why, I asked her, did she have the test? “Because my doctor told me it was time,” she said.

At which point I began banging my head against the wall.

Even regular stress tests (where you run on a treadmill or ride a bike) are only recommended in people with heart disease or symptoms of heart disease, same with an EKG. Yet a survey of nearly 1200 people ages 40 to 60 with neither found that 39 percent had an EKG … Continue Reading

Labels:
healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; patient-centered care patient-centered healthcare Unnecessary tests waste

Help! I’ve Lost My Insurance and I Can’t Get Up!

indexThe serendipity of the universe never ceases to amaze me. A couple of days ago I gave the keynote speech on healthcare reform at the Texas Medical Association’s CME Association’s annual meeting in Austin. A physician in the audience brought up an issue that was trumpeted in the press when the health care exchanges rolled out for open enrollment; namely, that people had lost their insurance and couldn’t see their doctors. I knew that a very small minority of people had actually “lost” their insurance, and that, in most cases, that insurance provided pretty bad coverage at fairly high prices. But I didn’t want to get into it with him, so I just agreed that yes, the Affordable Care Act certainly has flaws, then moved on to the next question.

If only I’d checked the news before my talk. I could have told him about a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of non-group enrollees (ie, they don’t have employer-provided insurance and bought their own insurance, most on the Exchanges). Among the findings:

About  two-thirds of those with non-group coverage are now in ACA-compliant plans, while three in 10 have coverage they purchased before … Continue Reading

Labels:
ACA Affordable Care Act health insurance health insurance exchanges healthcare costs healthcare reform healthcare system; Obamacare Obamacare